Below, embedded, is a short film entitled Mouse-X by filmmaker Justin Tagg. The concept is simple: A man wakes in a mysterious room, and as he tries to figure a way out he comes upon only the room — and himself. The atmosphere is eerie, the sense of dread lingers despite a faceless authority running this “maze”. The photography, design, and sound are all top-notch, and the fact that nary a word is spoken adds, in my opinion, to the sense of dread.
I’ve been toying with concepts like this myself lately, experiments in concepts and atmosphere over pure A-B-C Hollywood Storytelling. When I write projects, I’m usually on my own, though lately I’ve dealt a lot in collaboration, and things that end up popping up again and again are:
What motivates the characters?
Why do we care about the characters?
Why is this happening to the characters?
In Mouse-X, we care about this guy because he’s as confused as we are, he wants to get out, to be free. WHY this is happening is not entirely clear, and allows the audience to come up with their own conclusions. The WHY is not necessarily as “important” (yes, I put that in quotes) as the WHAT and WHO. WE relate to this character because WE, at one point or another, feel trapped, looking for answers, whether physically or emotionally or in some other way.
Therefore we care about what happens to this guy, despite not knowing anything about him. It doesn’t matter. Whatever answer the filmmaker and actor came up with for the backstory is hidden entirely from the audience. For all we know, this is a bad dude, in a prison, who has done despicable things. Yet we still care, because we’re intrigued by the mystery.
I’m not saying backstory is not important, it’s just not as relevant to the piece itself as the motivation of the character. He doesn’t need a “reason” to escape — just the fact that he WANTS to escape is enough to drive the short. It’s in this way that “Hollywood storytelling” is not always the most effective when inspiring a feeling in an audience.
Or maybe I’m not seeing something you are? Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!